Tuesday, December 06, 2016

December 6, 2016--Madman Theory

One of the first things that Donald Trump has actually done is very disturbing--taking what he claims was a call of congratulations from Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan. He has welcomed many such calls, so why is this one disturbing?

Here's the problem--

Who's in charge of Taiwan has been hotly contested since shortly after the end of the Second World War. Formosa, as it was then called, was the island refuge in 1949 for Chiang Kai-shek after his Kuomintang forces were driven there from Mainland China at the end of the Chinese Civil War or Revolution--Mao Zedong gained control of what we used to call Red China and Chiang and his followers, with our direct assistance turned Taiwan into an island fortress, where Chiang nurtured fantasies, again indulged by us, of invading the mainland to retake and unite China.

That of course never happened though through the years there was a lot of saber rattling and occasional threats of a widespread war breaking out in the region. With us right in the middle of it. This became especially dangerous when Mainland China tested and then deployed nuclear weapons. Many of the aimed at Taiwan.

As part of our struggle with communism, with the Soviet Union and China, we steadfastly recognized Taiwan and its leadership as the sole representatives of all of China--it was referred to as the One China policy--and we through the decades refused to extend any form of recognition to Red China, even though the population there was about 1.0 billion while on Taiwan it was a relatively few million.

Then, with Jimmy Carter as president, after Nixon visited Red China in 1972, seven years later, in 1979, the American government recognized Mainland China and severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

China, then, had it's own version of One China during the Mao regime and subsequently. Though China didn't control Taiwan, they considered it, and continue to do so, as China. Just China.

And though we continue to sell at least $2.0 billion a year in weapons to the Taiwanese, we have otherwise kept them at a political distance.  That is, until last week when Trump spoke to Tsai Ing-wen and it, by so doing, hit the diplomatic fan.

On the Sunday talk shows, vice-president-elect Mike Pence tried to downplay the conversation but early Monday morning Trump made matters worse by tweeting--
Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn't tax them) or build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so.
A couple of things are possible--

In his narcissistic mode, Trump is loving the global attention being lavished upon him. Like an ingenue he is giddy about being courted by world leaders such as Vladimir Putin and China's president, Xi Jinping, among many others. And, so, when President Tai's call arrived he (1) didn't know who she was (2), said what the hell harm can it do to wallow in her congratulations, or (3) saw talking with her an opportunity to poke his finger in China's eye, declaring that when he becomes president in January, unlike his predecessors, he plans to be tough on China.

Well, if the answer is that he didn't know the implications of talking with President Tsai that's one sort of issue--his lack of knowledge about global affairs. And, I'm being kind. Then, if he knew the call was coming from Taiwan and had any sense of the history of China and Taiwan, he might have thought twice. Though thinking twice is something apparently rare for him.

Alternately, I wonder how Trump would feel after being sworn in if Xi Jinping called the governor of Texas and by so doing implied support for the idea of Texas succeeding from the Union.

Then, if Trump is swaggering, maybe there is some lesson from history about what he might be up to--historians call it the Madman Theory.

Get the Chinese thinking he is, well, mad, so they will treat him carefully and perhaps be more prone to make concessions than if he were fully rational and stable.

For antecedents we have to go back to the Richard Nixon presidency who maybe was actually unhinged or perhaps crazy like a fox.

His chief or staff, H.R. Haldeman, in his memoirs, wrote that Nixon had confided in him--
I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, "for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry--and he has his hand on the nuclear button" and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.
The only problem with this is that it didn't work then and it made the world a more dangerous place. The war went on and on and many more thousands were killed.

Let's hope Trump soon names someone other than Rudy to be Secretary of State. Someone who knows something about the world and isn't crazy.

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